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Letter from Josiah Martin to William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth
Martin, Josiah, 1737-1786
July 13, 1774
Volume 09, Pages 1009-1014

[B. P. R. O. Am. & W. Ind.: No. Carolina. Vol. 221.]
Letter from Governor Martin to the Earl of Dartmouth.

North Carolina, New Bern,
July 13th 1774.

My Lord,

I have now the honor to transmit to your Lordship the Acts passed at the late session of the General Assembly of this Province, which I should have dispatched near a month ago, when I received the first transcripts of them if a severe fit of illness had not rendered me incapable of business.

The 1st of these Acts intituled “An Act for establishing Inferior Courts of Pleas and Quarter sessions in the several Counties of this Province and for regulating the proceedings therein” is formed much upon the plan of the Act of the same Title first passed in the year 1762, & continued and amended by several Acts of the year 1768, with these alterations, that appeals lie by this Act from such Courts to Courts of Oyer and Terminer and of Appeals erected by virtue of another Act of the late Session instead of the Superior Courts that were formerly established; that the Appellant is also required to pay down in Court the sum for which judgment is obtained against him, before the Appeal be admitted and that the authority of the Clerk of the Pleas is not recognized.

This Act for the Constitution of Courts so incompetent to the due Administration of Justice as well from their very limited Jurisdiction, which admits of no relief, where the matters in question exceed £20 amount, as from the incapacity of the Judges in them, I was induced to pass, purely on account of the dependence of the Courts of Oyer and Terminer thereon, which are certainly of a most absurd and extraordinary constitution, but the only plan for the administration of Justice in Criminal cases the Assembly could be engaged to adopt, after having wantonly brought into question and resolved illegal the commissions of Oyer and Terminer issued by me last year, pursuant to the Powers vested in me by His Majesty's Royal

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Commission, whereby if I had refused my assent to this strange and new fangled Law the country must have been given up a prey to disorder, and in that case no jurisdiction could be established whose legal authority would be recognized or submitted to. This consideration my Lord, and this alone, together with their short duration, obtained my assent to this Act, and that for erecting Courts of Oyer and Terminer, which form a system for the Administration of Justice the most extraordinary I apprehend that was ever conceived by the understanding of man, and I build my hopes only on the absolute necessity of the case to plead my excuse to His Majesty for giving my assent to these Acts, which I did with the utmost shame and reluctance.

The 2d, Entituled “An Act to establish a Militia for the security and defence of this Province,” is precisely the former Militia Law re-enacted not without opposition, for one year, notwithstanding my representation to the Assembly of the hostile designs of the neighboring nations of Indians.

The 3rd, entituled “An Act to establish Courts of Oyer and Terminer and General Gaol delivery and for vesting in the several Inferior Courts of Pleas and Quarter Sessions the power of appointing jurymen for the said Courts of Oyer & Terminer & regulating the proceedings therein, and also for constituting the Judges thereof a Court for hearing and determining appeals and writs of Error,” upon which very extraordinary Act I have already made my observations in treating of the first Act and assigned my reasons for giving it my Assent.

The 4th, Entituled “An Act to amend the staple of Tobacco, and prevent frauds in His Majesty's Customs” this Act seems well calculated to answer the ends designed.

The 5th, Entituled “An Act to regulate & ascertain the Fees of the Clerks of the Inferior Courts,” this is taken altogether from the Act of 1773, Chap. 3d.

The 6th, Intituled “An Act to oblige Vessels having infectious distempers on board to perform Quarantine,” which is necessary and will I hope prove of great utility.

The 7th, Intituled “An Act to amend and further continue An Act intituled An Act concerning Vestries.” The Act of this Title passed in the year 1764, and is liable to great objections inasmuch as that the qualification of Vestrymen is of a negative nature and that the Vestry is subject to be totally changed every three

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years whereby the parochial affairs are always in disorder, the establishment of the Clergy impeded and the Parishes are kept in perpetual strife by contentions of candidates for the Offices of Vestrymen; but the Act now under consideration has an addition relative to the management of the poor, copied verbatim from An Act of the General Assembly of Virginia of the 28th year of His late Majesty's reign Chap. 1st, to which as it appears to me to be by no means sufficiently guarded against oppression I should have refused my Assent to this Act at another time. When I passed it, it was in consideration of its general expediency with regard to Vestries and of the certainty that I might by timely representations prevent the possible ill consequences that might arise out of it to the Poor; if it be disallowed, and His Majesty is pleased to recommend that the Vestry Law be distinct as in Virginia and upon the same plan, which makes the Vestries perpetual, I think my Lord, at this time it would be highly useful, & that it might be carried in the Assembly.

The 8th, intituled “An Act to prevent the pernicious practice of hunting with a gun in the night by firelight.” The great destruction of cattle that has been made under pretence of hunting Deer at this season has made this Act highly necessary.

The 9th, entituled “An Act for erecting parts of the Counties of Halifax and Tyrrell into one district County and Parish,” which I passed in conformity to your Lordships sentiments communicated to me in your dispatch N.

The 10th, intituled “An Act for enlarging the time of saving lots in the Town of Windsor, and for erecting a Court House Prison and Stocks.” This Act is calculated to afford indulgence to the Landholders in this little Town which has been usual in all such new establishments. It is well situated is likely to thrive much and is the proper seat of the Public buildings of the County.

The 11th, intituled “An Act for vesting in certain Persons therein named two Acres of Land at Belville in Currituck County as Trustees for erecting a Chapel thereon and for inclosing a Burying Ground.” A copy of this Bill I transmitted for your Lordship's consideration last year; and I assented to it at the last Session in consequence of your Lordship's approbation of it signified to me. I should observe however that the name of the place is changed from the Indian Town to Belville.

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The 12th, Intituled “An Act for establishing the Court House in the town of Charlotte in Mecklenburg County and for regulating the said Town.” This Act is well calculated for the purposes its Title professes, and will obviate much dispute and contention in the County.

The 13th, Intituled “An Act for dividing the Parish of St Mary's in the County of Edgecomb into two distinct Parishes.” This is an act I think of good design, the parish as it stood, including the whole County, was much too large for one cure, and it is very well able to support two ministers.

The 14th, intituled “An Act for dividing the Parish of Edgecomb in the County of Halifax into two distinct Parishes.” My observations on the former Act apply equally to this.

The 15th, Intituled “An Act for appointing Commissioners for building a Court House, Prison and Stocks for the County of Tryon and for establishing a Boundary Line between the Counties of Tryon and Mecklenburg.” This Act is framed upon the same plan of others of the like tenor, and will answer good purposes.

The 16th, Intituled “An Act for the more effectually obtaining an exact list of Taxables for the town of New Bern, for compelling the Inhabitants of the said Town to pay their Taxes and for other purposes therein mentioned.” This Act seems well calculated to answer the ends designed, and there is the greatest need of some such Law, for the better regulation of this Town.

The 17th, Intituled “An Act to prevent counterfeiting the paper money of this and the other British Colonies; and to prevent counterfeiting the gold and silver coin circulating in this Province.” By this Act the counterfeiting the paper money of any of the Colonies as well as counterfeiting the gold and silver coin is made capital, and I conceive great hopes that it will be attended with the best effects.

The 18th, Intituled “An Act directing the duty of Sheriffs with respect to insolvent Taxables.” This Act is calculated to prevent great abuses committed by the Sheriffs as Collectors of the Public Taxes.

The 19th, Intituled “An Act to amend an Act for the laying out a Town on the Land of Richard Evans in Pitt County by the name of Martinborough and for removing the Court House, Prison and Stocks into the said Town.” This Act is calculated to supply the accidental failure of a Provision of the first Act relative to this Town passed in

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November 1771, and to make other necessary arrangements in the said Town.

The 20th, Intituled “An Act to empower the Justices of Anson County to establish free ferries and to lay a tax for defraying the charges thereof.” This Act is well calculated to answer the purposes set forth in its Title.

The 21st, Intituled “An Act to amend an Act for dividing the northern part of Rowan County and erecting a new County by the name of Surry County and St Judes Parish.” The design of this Act is only to appoint Commissioners instead of those appointed by the Act recited in the Title hereof passed in December 1770.

The 22d, Intituled “An Act to empower the Justices of Bladen County to hold the Inferior Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions in the Town of Elizabeth in the said County.” The design of this Act is merely to remove the seat of the Inferior Court to the County Town.

The 23d, Intituled “An Act to facilitate the navigation of Neuse River,” which provides against the causing those obstructions to the navigation of that river, that the Inhabitants upon it have heretofore made for the purpose of stopping fish.

The 24th, Intituled “An Act to continue an Act intituled an Act to amend an Act intituled an Act for the regulation of the Town of Wilmington.” By this Act the Act whereof the Title is here recited is continued two years longer.

The 25th, Intituled “An Act to explain an Act for erecting a Parish in Chatham County by the name of St Bartholomews.” The intention of this Act is to explain some uncertainty in the Act of which the Title is here recited relative to the election of a Vestry in the same Parish.

The 26th, Intituled “An Act to prevent the wilful and malicious killing of slaves.” Altho' I conceive that the laws of humanity require more rigorous punishment than is allotted by this Act to the first offence, it is nevertheless an Act of salutary and humane tendency, and will operate, I hope, to the restraint of the inhuman Masters of Slaves, and is a manifest improvement of the Laws of this Country, the Courts of Justice having heretofore doubted of the propriety of punishing this offence capitally.

The 27th, Intituled “An Act to enforce an Act entituled an Act to encourage the destroying of Vermin in the several Counties therein mentioned, passed in the year 1773.” The design of this Act is to

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extend the provisions of the Act whose Title is here recited to the Counties of this Province not therein mentioned.

The 28th, Intituled “An Act to amend an Act entituled an Act for repairing the Gaol for the District of Halifax in the Town of Halifax.” This Act is designed to give further time to the Commissioners appointed under the former Act to execute the work designed, which the short limitation of the said Act did not admit of.

The 29th, Intituled “An Act for further continuing an Act for appointing a Printer to this Province.” This is of the common tenor of the Act of the same Title passed at every Session.

The 30th, Intituled “An Act to amend an Act entituled an Act for building a Court House in the Town of Salisbury for the district of Salisbury.” This Act appoints new Commissioners for executing the purposes of the former one, the late Commissioners having totally neglected their duty.

The 31st, Intituled “An Act to enforce an Act entituled an Act for preventing the frequent abuses in taking up and secreting stray horses, in the Counties of Orange, Granville, Bute, Rowan, Anson, Mecklenburg, Johnston, Dobbs, Halifax, Edgecomb, Northampton, Hertford, Tyrrell, Craven, Pitt and Chatham,” the design of which is sufficiently set forth in its Title.

The 32d, Intituled “An Act for appointing Commissioners to erect a Court House, Prison and Stocks in the County of Guilford,” which is upon the usual plan of Acts of this purport.

The discontent manifested and declared by a great part of the Inhabitants of this Country at the Proceedings of the Assembly with regard to the Court-Laws, at the three last Sessions incline me to hope that as soon as answers are received to the representations made by the late Assembly, a better system for the administration of Justice will be adopted. In the meantime I apprehend it will be fruitless to make further attempts to induce that House to it.

I have the honor to be &ca
JO. MARTIN.